The Craziness of Khanelo: When Fight Becomes Farce
By Ronnie McCluskey
On Tuesday, WBC middleweight champion Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez stunned the boxing world by announcing that he would face British welterweight Amir Khan on Cinco de Mayo weekend. It’s kinda difficult to convey just how out-of-left-field the news was, but in the interests of providing clarity, I’m gonna do my level best.
Canelo – the freckled, flame-haired Mexican who is among the sport’s premier attractions – will be making the maiden defence of the title he claimed by beating Miguel Cotto in November. Khan, who has never before competed above the welterweight limit of 147 lbs, will jump to 155 lbs to meet Alvarez in an event that’s likely to do solid numbers at the box office. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that the fight’s a complete and utter farce. Rather than make this fight, everyone involved should have saved themselves the trouble and driven a bulldozer through the business of boxing itself. Rarely has a fight been made that has thrown up so many reasons why it should not have been made. I intend to summarise some of the main ones in this article.
A mighty mismatch
The first thing that strikes you when you contemplate the lunacy of this match is the size difference between the combatants. Amir Khan, who won an Olympic silver medal as a lightweight at the 2004 Athens Games and turned pro a year later in the same division, has never weighed more than 147 lbs for a bout. In fact, he’s only fought at the welterweight limit three times over the course of two years. By contrast, Saul Alvarez has been a super welterweight (154 lbs) for almost five years. Not only that, but he is big for the weight class, a boxer long expected to graduate to the full middleweight limit (160 lbs) in the near future. Essentially, then, what you have here is a newish welterweight facing a thoroughbred super welterweight-cum-middleweight.
Although the fight has been contracted to take place at 155 lbs, Alvarez is likely to rehydrate after the weigh-in and enter the ring around 170 lbs. Lord knows what Khan will be on fight night: probably no more than 157. One wonders if his welterweight frame can accommodate 8-10 lbs of muscle, and whether such a transformation will impact his greatest asset: speed.
If you know anything about boxing, you’ll know that size isn’t everything. In 2009, David Haye surrendered nearly 100 lbs (or seven stone) to beat Nikolai Valuev and claim a portion of the heavyweight title. Countless fighters throughout history have moved up in weight, facing and beating bigger rivals. The names are ingrained into the minds of boxing aficionados. Names like Henry Armstrong, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, Julio Cesar Chavez. This shit is nothing new. The troubling thing about this particular fight is that Amir Khan has been badly beaten down by lesser fighters than Alvarez who were also smaller and less powerful than Alvarez. Just think about that for a second. Think about the fact that Amir Khan was put to sleep by a one-dimensional brawler during his lightweight days (clip below). Think about his brutal shellacking at the hands of Danny Garcia during a junior welterweight unification a few years ago. If you want to get a greater handle on how vulnerable Khan is in this fight, you can also find footage of him hitting the deck against Willie Limond (lightweight) and Julio Diaz (super lightweight).
These statistics wouldn’t bother you too much if Alvarez were slow, or old, or punchy, or if maybe he had asthma or brittle bones that shattered every time he connected with a punch. But the Mexican has had more knockouts than Khan has victories. 70% of his beaten opponents don’t make the final bell. He is, in every respect, a formidable hitter. A cursory viewing of his flogging of James Kirkland confirms as much.
It’s almost unfeasible that Khan won’t get wiped out in this fight, and that that wipeout won’t be so brutal you’ll have to watch through splayed fingers (unless you want to see Khan mauled, in which case you should have your favourite popcorn and a cold beverage to hand). It’ll simply defy logic if Khan can withstand the firepower Canelo brings into the ring. And it’s not just a glass chin that’ll let the challenger down; it’s the fact that he has no power in his own fists. In five fights as a welterweight, Khan has recorded precisely zero knockouts. You have to go back to July 2011 to find his last stoppage, against a badly faded Zab Judah. On May 7, he’s coming to an Alamo gunfight unarmed. He’s fighting a naturally bigger, stronger and more vigorous opponent and the outcome is almost stunningly predictable. So predictable, in fact, that you can’t help but diagnose bad faith on the part of Golden Boy, Alvarez’s promoters. I get the same queasy feeling when contemplating this fight as I had before Danny Garcia lit up Rod Salka 18 months ago. That was a mismatch too, but it received only a fraction of the column inches. Canelo-Khan will be a huge event, and the consequent stain on the sport will be equally substantial.
A fistful of farce
The ignominy of this fight is not confined to the fact that the fighters are physically unequal (though that should be enough). The World Boxing Council deserves at least partial discredit. The sport’s various sanctioning bodies have been on a race to the bottom recently, continually attempting to outdo one another where dodgy practices are concerned. Thus, we had the International Boxing Federation (IBF) stripping Tyson Fury of his title days after he’d supplanted Wladimir Klitschko; the World Boxing Association (WBA) persisting with their risible ‘three-champions-per-weight-class’ policy; and the World Boxing Organisation (WBO) sanctioning unconscionable spars like Liam Smith vs Jimmy Kelly.
It seems that the WBC (or ‘We Be Crooks’, as James Toney famously branded them) is determined to do whatever it can to preserve its reputation as the most disreputable governing body in the land. Scrolls have been written about the shadiness of this organisation, but its most recent crime surrounds the sanctioning of catchweight title fights (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one). The last WBC title fight between two legitimate middleweights took place in April 2013, when Sergio Martinez fought Martin Murray in Buenos Aires. Since then, it’s been one catchweight fight after another. Miguel Cotto started the trend, insisting on a 159 lbs weight limit for his bout with Martinez. After dethroning the champ, and notching up a catchweight defence against Daniel Geale (neither fighter was allowed to weigh over 157 lbs by the terms of the contract), Cotto squared off with Alvarez at a stipulated weight of 155. All the while, the WBC was happy to collect its sanctioning fee and market the fight as for the ‘middleweight championship of the world’.
Sorry, but if one of the participants is not allowed to weigh 160 lbs – the accepted middleweight limit since the days of Stanley Ketchel and Harry Greb and Mickey Walker – then it’s not a middleweight world title fight. It’s just not; by definition, it can’t be. Sure, you can brand it a middleweight world title fight, in the same way that you can – if you’re so inclined – polish a steaming turd. The WBC has been polishing the green-and-gold turd that is its middleweight belt for nearly three years now. And they’re gonna make sure that turd is gleaming like a new penny come May 7, whence it’ll be held aloft by a triumphant Saul Alvarez.
As if it wasn’t enough that the middleweight title is held by a super welterweight who insists on catchweights, and who took the title from another super welterweight who insisted on catchweights, the so-called champion is now going to defend his belt against an opponent who isn’t even a super welterweight! That’s right: a super welterweight is fighting a welterweight for the world middleweight title. And what’s more, Amir Khan isn’t even the world’s best welterweight! He’s not even the second best welterweight! He might even be outside the top five!
Boxing insiders often remark that ‘belts don’t mean anything any more.’ The idiom is particularly apt for the middleweight division. Kazakh powerhouse Gennady Golovkin is the irrefutable top dog, a fearsome puncher other fighters cross the street to avoid. By electing to face Khan, Canelo is doing exactly that; diverting his gaze from a worthy nemesis to shamelessly pound the spindly nerd and make off with his lunch money. Khan is the sacrificial lamb to the slaughter and Alvarez is gonna add another highlight-reel knockout to his resume.
Khanelo, he craycray
The Canelo-Khan mismatch offends on so many levels. So why, I hear you ask, is it happening? Why is Canelo stooping so low as to defend his middleweight title – disgraced though it is – against the world’s sixth or seventh best welterweight? Why is Khan walking into the fire with pure defiance? Why is the WBC allowing this sham to take place under its auspices?
It’s not an easy question to answer: there are lots of answers. In part, it’s happening because Canelo needs a spectacular victory ahead of a potential blockbuster with Golovkin in September. What better way to boost confidence, and put bums on seats, than by crushing a loudmouth like Khan? (I have never, in all my life, heard an individual refer to themself in the third person so much as Amir Khan.) The Brit also brings UK pay-per-view revenue to the table, not to mention a crowd-pleasing style of fighting which should suit Alvarez down to a tee.
Another way of looking at it is this: Khan talked himself into this fight. He spent two years chasing boxing’s white whale – Floyd Mayweather – to no avail. Recently he turned his focus on Manny Pacquiao, only to be rebuffed afresh. After holding out for a mega payday, and a clash with one of the sport’s living legends, Amir couldn’t concede to accept a lustreless bout. He had two options: fight long-time British rival (and IBF welterweight titlist) Kell Brook at Wembley in June; or suspend his sense of self-preservation and sign to fight Alvarez in May. In Khan’s head, it was a no-brainer: he has always been loath to step into the ring with Kell Brook. In my view, he’s not so much afraid as unwilling to give Brook the opportunity to prosper at his expense. With Alvarez, there is only upside: he’ll make a mint, have a shot (albeit an unlikely one) at superstardom and, should he lose, he’ll have a ready-made excuse to offer during the post-fight interview. No-one can criticise Khan if he succumbs to Alvarez – he was never supposed to win. But if he were to lose to Brook, his days as an elite-level boxer would surely be over.
The grizzled trainers, busted cut men and sage promoters are right: boxing’s a mad old sport. On May 7, it plumbs new depths. Amir Khan doesn’t deserve a shot at the middleweight title Canelo Alvarez undeservingly owns. In some ways, though, they deserve each other.